Dangers cited at Tennessee's nursing homes

Sanctions being issued at unprecedented rate


NASHVILLE - State inspections have uncovered an unprecedented number of dangerous living conditions at nursing homes during the past year.

The crackdown comes after a May report from the Government Accountability Office found that Tennessee is one of nine states that most commonly failed to identify serious violations in a sampling of surveys from fiscal years 2002 to 2007.

State inspectors in Tennessee missed deficiencies - deemed serious enough to cause "actual harm" or put patients in "immediate jeopardy" - 26.3 percent of the time, the report says.

The most frequently missed violations involved poor quality of care, as with regard to ensuring proper nutrition and hydration and preventing pressure sores.

A record 22 nursing homes in Tennessee had their admissions temporarily suspended in 2007 after unsafe conditions were found. That's compared with 10 in 2006 and six in 2005.

The trend has continued. Five months into this year, admissions have been suspended at 13 nursing homes.

Despite the unprecedented number of sanctions, industry officials have said the vacancy rate at Tennessee nursing homes hovers at around 10 percent, or 3,000 available beds.

Christy Allen, who started as assistant commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Health's Bureau of Health Licensure and Regulation in April 2007, said the public should be assured that surveyors have undergone extensive training to remedy the problems cited in the report.

"I believe that we are doing things right," Allen said.

Patrick Willard, AARP Tennessee's advocacy director, is troubled by the report's findings.

"I think it points out the reason why Tennesseans are so concerned about nursing homes," he said. "We rely on state surveyors to find deficiencies and point those out. So when we find out they've been missing them, that's cause for concern."

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